Jason Dundas puts his all into every Getaway
story, but says the trips that leave a lasting impression are those he feels he has been of some help on. His visit to Rio's favelas, slum homes to thousands of people, was a massive eye opener.
This time he went to Nepal, a country blessed with the beauty of the Himalayas but so remote development is seriously hampered.
Jason joined 16 other volunteers on a World Expeditions Community project, and after an exhausting trek they arrived in the village of Junbesi in the Everest region. Around 20 percent of participants' costs go to purchasing and transporting project materials and paying local tradesmen.
Volunteer tourism is an increasingly popular way for people to holiday. It's very much give and take. You give time, effort and money and take away lifelong memories.
At 2700m it's higher than anything in Australia and not exactly an easy place to reach. To get there, Jason drove for nine hours on bumpy roads, took a 20-minute flight and then faced a three-hour trek.
There's a medical centre in Junbesi and quarters were desperately needed for doctors and nurses. Facilities are basic and only just serve the needs of the community. For some needing assistance, it means a two- or three-day walk. Donations from abroad and help from volunteers are welcomed with great humility.
Before getting into the hard work, volunteers were greeted in a traditional way by a Sherpa. With assistance from locals, the group set about putting together accommodation for four doctors and nurses with kitchen, dining room and shower.
The work was all hands on. There was rock breaking to be done and carried from the top of a hill, so the volunteers and around 200 townspeople formed a line and got them down that way. Everyone was involved and for those not used to exertion in high altitude, it wasn't that easy.
Timber came from a local community forest and tiles, cement and other necessary materials were brought in from Kathmandu. A qualified carpenter was on hand to oversee and direct the project.
At the end of each day there is a real sense of accomplishment. It only took two hours to put a wall up. Half the floor was dug. Upstairs was being sanded. Best of all were the smiles on the faces of the Nepalese people.
Jason and the others felt particularly moved by things they maybe had not considered previously, such as being involved in a remote community, carrying all your essentials in a pack and working with tools they weren't used to.
The Kushudebu project they worked on wasn't the only one in the area. Jason headed further up to the Thubten Choling monastery where a new project will be starting in October. It was an hour's trek to the head of the valley and home to around 475 monks and nuns.
The retreat community and monastery was established by Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche in the 1960s after fleeing Tibet. The independent and autonomous institution has remained authentically traditional and hidden from the outside world.
It houses, feeds and educates a large population, 80 percent of whom are Tibetan refugees and is one of the first contact points for the many Tibetans who find their way into Nepal each year.
If you think you would like to be part of it, you will spend time in the Himalayas as guests of the Sherpas as well as helping heal the environment in a waste management project. The installation of incinerators will help prevent waste ending up in their water supply.
Some things to consider when in Nepal
Smoking is forbidden at Buddhist monasteries and other sacred sites.
Remove shoes when entering a sacred place.
Take any rubbish with you.
Don't give anything to beggars. Donations or money given to someone of authority is preferred.
Refuse plastic bags when shopping.
Water from taps, streams and wells is not safe to drink. Purify water with iodine or a portable water filter. Don't buy bottled water on a trek.
The lower Everest region of Nepal.
World Expeditions' 18-day Thubten Choling Monastery Project tour from Kathmandu costs from $2990 per person twin-share. It will depart on October 10, 2010. Internal flights, accommodation, meals and park entry fees are included. You will also have the services of a professional trekking crew, sleeping bag, down jacket and porters. Departures to other monasteries are scheduled for November 15, 2010, and April 10, 2011.
Thai International has flights to Kathmandu from:
- Perth $1439
- Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane $1660
Sales, validity dates and conditions apply.
Prices correct at July 15, 2010.
For further information
Thai Airways International
Ph: 1300 651 960
Ph: 1300 720 000
Visas: Australian citizens are required to obtain a visa for Nepal. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly.
Electricity: 230V at 50Hz.
Time zone: GMT + 5.45.
Currency: Nepalese rupee.
International dialling code: +977.
It is recommended travellers to Nepal see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au